Tragedy in Cassopolis demonstrates true grit of farmers

Published 9:35 am Friday, March 1, 2019

Early on the morning of Nov. 4, Mark Dussel, owner of Dussel’s Farm Market in Cassopolis, got a phone call that nobody ever wants to get.

It was the Cass County Sheriff’s Office Central Dispatch letting him know the family business along M-60 in Cassopolis was on fire.

The building that housed the store was a complete loss, but never once did Dussel or his family think about not rebuilding.

Then came another stroke of bad luck three days later.

At approximately 1:45 p.m. that following Wednesday, a car carrying three people crashed into the greenhouse, which Dussel and his family had hastily gotten ready to open up to sell their Christmas items.

“It came off M-60 and went through one of the greenhouses. It totaled it,” Dussel said.

Still, the family remained unwavering, and began planning how to rebuild and get the farm market reopened as quickly as possible.

Two strokes of bad luck have been offset by a string of good things, which has allowed a new building to be erected and the greenhouse restored to full use.

Dussel said the target for reopening the store is April 13.

Looking back, Dussel remembers heading to the start and seeing the fire department and police at the scene.

“They called about 1:20 in the morning on Saturday,” he said. “We get down here and the fire trucks had the road blocked and everything. The one end of the building was totally engulfed.”

Dussel remembers exactly what he was feeling.

“I do not want to do this, but never once thought in my mind that we were done,” he said. “It was that we could get it back going as fast we could. We did not know how bad the damage was that night until the next day.”

Without hesitation, Dussel and his family, along with friends and various businesses, began coming together to rebuild the Cassopolis institution.

“We had gotten to the point that we had to proceed with putting up a new building,” he said.

Then along came a second punch to the gut for Dussel.

“Basically, the car left the road and hit the greenhouse structure, missing the fire instructor by about 50 feet,” Dussel said. “We had just walked out of there. Our intent was to set up temporary placement in that greenhouse to sell Christmas trees, greenery and have Santa Claus come like normal. That all changed that day.”

Dussel admitted that he began to wonder if the cards were stacked against him.

“What else can happen?” he said. “We were late doing harvest because it was raining and nasty and it just wasn’t getting any better. I tell you, when something like this happens, you really have to step back and ask what is the purpose of all this?”

However, community spirit reminded Dussel why he does what he does. Loyal shoppers quickly rallied around the Dussel family. Dussel’s Facebook page blew up with words of encouragement and pleas to rebuild.

“The community has been great and they are waiting for us to get back on our feet,” Dussel said.

Similarly, some loyal friends showered support by helping rebuild.

“I called several people and everybody was like too far out, and with the economy, everybody was busy,” Dussel said. “Johnny’s Custom Construction really reached out and said they would drop everything and do what we have to do to get you going. The same way with Judd Lumber. Judd’s has been great. I cannot say enough about Judd Lumber and Johnny’s Construction.”

Although there were no big renovation plans in its future, the 20-year-old Cassopolis business did get some face lifts from time to time.

With a blank canvas to work from, Dussel said there would be some changes.

One of the things that was already done before the fire and accident was adding new concrete in front of the building.

“We had just poured a piece of it, but of course that got ruined by the fire,” Dussel said. “We had planned on doing some things over the course of the winter. We are always trying to do something new. This kind of forces us to do a lot of things.”

Dussel added that with the new construction, there had to be upgrades to meet new codes.

“We are going to get a little better food prep area because we had to do regulations,” he said. “In the store, we are going to move some things around. It will seem a lot bigger, but it is only 600 square-feet bigger,” he said.

Through all the bad luck, Dussel has been fortunate to catch a break with the weather through November and December with mild temperatures and very little snow. Even the first days of January helped move the
projects along.

“We got concrete done, and in a normal year, we probably would not have had that done by now,” he said. “We would have worked a lot harder to get the concrete in here than what we did.”

Dussel said he hopes to open prior to the April 13 grand re-opening so that everyone can get their feet wet and work out any kinks.

And what will be the best part about that first day?

“That we are done with construction,” Dussel laughed. “The comments that we have gotten from people have been all positive. We cannot wait to see all our customers again.”